1982 Citizenship Law in Burma and the Arbitrary Deprivation of Rohingyas’ Nationality

The Rohingyas have experienced difficulties in obtaining citizenship after 1982 Citizenship Law in Burma was enacted. Since the beginning of Burmese independence, their separate identity was recognized by the then democratic government of Premier U Nu (1948-1962). Their situation worsened after the military takeover in 1962 leaving them subject to humiliating restrictions and harsh treatment by the State. However, the Rohingya statelessness was institutionalized by the Burmese 1982 Citizenship Law. This paper argues that the citizenship is in line with international human rights standards but under international law is considered the responsibility of the State to adhere to international principles through domestic legislative systems. State sovereignty is primarily understood to entail the power to determine who will be the permanent and preferred residents of the State, or put differently, who will be citizens. The Burmese are adamant that the Rohingyas are Bengalis regardless of their residency history, and therefore belong in Bangladesh. Their Islamic religion and Indo-Aryan racial appearance do not conform with so-called ‘Burmese citizenship standard’. According to the United Nations human rights standards and mechanism, no one would be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. This paper will examine the Burmese 1982 Citizenship Law and how it fails to meet international standards and customary practice. In this context, this paper will outline, despite human rights standard, how Rohingyas have come to be deprived of Burmese citizenship status due to their ethno-religious identity.
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1. Introduction
The Rohingya people of Burma, an ethnic group existing in a state of national limbo, are one of the severely affected communities living under the quasi-democratic regime where human rights abuse and sufferings are very common. The Rohingyas have been denied Burmese nationality by the 1982 Citizenship Law. They thereby face discrimination from the authorities on account of their ethnicity and religious identity. That law was created to deny the Rohingyas identity under the Union of Burma. Many international actors believe that due to the lack of legal entity, Rohingyas became stateless in their ancestral land of Burma. This paper will examine the 1982 Citizenship Law and how it fails to meet the international human rights standards and arbitrarily deprived the Rohingya nationality in the present Burmese state framework.
2. Methodology
This research article mainly focuses on two areas; 1982 Citizenship Law in Burma and various human rights standard against the arbitrary deprivation of nationality. He nature of this research allows the review of the 1982 Citizenship Law and relevant documents of human rights standard on the right to nationality. For that reason, the researcher collected primary data from the field especially in Rangoon. Due to security reasons, it was not possible for the researcher to directly collect the data from Arakan State (Rakhine State). This study conducted three round field works in July, 2012, June, 2013 and February 2014, to collect evidences of Rohingya presence in the present nation-state Burma. All these findings are based on various reports, ethnographic interview with Rohingyas and other community leaders then checked with previous documents and relevant experts’ opinion. This research finding gives an overview why and how the 1982 Citizenship Law has deprived the Rohingyas of nationality in Burma.
3. 1982 Citizenship Law
There is no universally accepted definition of nationality or citizenship. In general, most countries consider that the acquisition of the nationality can be two ways: first by descent from parents who are nationals (jus sanguinis) and second by territorial location of birth (jus soli). In addition, some may be able to acquire citizenship through naturalization. It should be noted that the practice of acquiring nationality varies considerably. There are some general rules developed through various treaties and declarations. The state is the highest authority to make the law of citizenship. At the same time, international law repeatedly mentions the spirit that no one will be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality. Therefore, nationality or citizenship law should maintain the standard of international human rights law, conventions, customs and practices. In this section, the 1982 Citizenship Law will be examined in detail. Most scholars and rights practitioners have argued that this law is the main cause of the Rohingya’s plight.
3.1 Background to the 1982 Citizenship Law
The Rohingya exclusion policy started after General Ne Win took over state power. Ne Win headed the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) regime which took extensive anti-Rohingya action from the 1960s. This started gradually and Rohingya identity was finally rejected after the 1982 Citizenship Law. Before, going into detailed discussion, it is necessary to understand what encouraged the military government to promulgate this new law. Earlier, it has been mentioned that the Rohingya issue is related to their citizenship status in the Union of Burma. Before promulgating the new law, Chairman of the Law Commission, Dr. Maung Maung, argued that
Members of racial groups who had settled in Burma anterior to 1823 are citi-zens[…]they are nationals. Every national is a citizen. Persons born of parents, both of whom are nationals, are nationals and citizens. However, not all citizens are nationals. There are persons who have considerable blood of a Burmese citizen or a Burmese national or whose grandparents made the State their permanent home or those who elected for citizenship within the prescribed period following the country’s independence. By law some of them are citizens. However, they are not Burmese nationals (Working People’s Daily 21, April and 16 October 1982 cited in Kin, 1983).
The Chairman of the Law Commission emphasized the criteria for future nationals and citizens in Burma. Firstly, those racial groups which had settled in Burma before British colonization would be eligible. For this reason, 1823 is a significant year. After that year, during the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26), Burma surrendered to British colonial power. Consequently, many foreigners entered what had formerly been Burmese territory and resided there for many years. Those people’s grandparents had made permanent home in this State, or those who elected for citizenship following the country’s independence in 1948, were not treated as nationals but could enjoy citizenship. Rohingya leaders claimed that the Arakan was colonized for a second time by the British in 1824 having been first colonized by the Burmese kingdom in 1784. For that reason, 1824 should not be the cut off year for the settlement of indigenous races in Burma. There are some other factors that have contributed to the new citizenship law. According to Rakhine Commission Report (2013), the Tatmadaw government conducted successful military operations against the insurgency in Rakhine State from 1974. After the operation Naga Min and first Rohingya refugee influx (1978), the Government of Myanmar (in this article abbreviated to GoM for convenience) realized that the 1948 Citizenship Law had failed to manage citizenship and immigration issues. “The government noted the weakness in the law with respect to safeguarding the long-term interests of indigenous Taing-Yin-Tha, and began the process of revising the law” (2013.p.6). Therefore, it can be stated that the 1982 Citizenship Law is the result of “operation Naga Min” and the first refugee influx. After three decades, the GoM has recognized that all these three things are inter-related and conducted against the Rohingya.
3.2 Categories of Citizenship under the 1982 Law
This article will elaborate upon the 1982 Citizenship Law and how it rejected Rohingya rights in their ancestors’ land in Burma. The 1982 law was based on the principle of jus sanguinis and repealed the Union Citizenship Act of 1948. The 1948 act was based on how one had obtained permanent citizenship. The new law of the Ne Win government was based on indigenous ethnic status and tried to ensure that only pure blooded nationals would be the citizens of Burma. The Rohingya leaders and Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, a Bangkok based NGO, stated that, “this law was mainly created with the aim of excluding the Rohingya” (December, 2012 in Bangkok).
As explained by Amnesty International (2004) in their report about the Rohingya minority, the 1982 law provides three categories of citizenship, each with its own identity card and it was effective in 1989 (Citizens Scrutiny Cards). It was discussed extensively in Burma Immigration Procedure-1983. The whole citizenship law has 76 sections in the eight chapters. The three categories of citizenship are described in chapters 2 to 4 of the Act.
(A) Full Citizenship (pink card holders): The first criterion for full citizenship is recognized nationals of Burma. Under this law in Chapter II, Section 3, “Nationals such as the Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine or Shan and ethnic groups as have settled in any of the territories included within the State as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1185 B.E., 1823 A.D.” The Rohingya are not recognized by this act as nationals. Section 4 states that this definition will be appeared by the “Council of State”. This council has unlimited powers to decide “whether any ethnic group is national or not.” Sections 8 & 9 refer to the Council of State’s jurisdiction and how it will decide the nationality and categories of citizenship. “The Council of State may, in the interest of the State confer on any person citizenship or associate citizenship or naturalized citizenship”. At the same time, the Council can revoke any type of citizenship except by birth. Therefore, the Council of State enjoys supreme authority under the citizenship law. Section 5 has clarified the citizens by birth: “every national and every person born of parents, both of whom are nationals are citizens by birth.” In addition, Sections 6 & 7 provide that “a person who is already a citizen on the date this Law cones into force is a citizen”. Children born abroad to parents belonging to specified combinations of citizenship categories are also citizens.
It was the first time that Rohingya identity was not mentioned in the citizenship law. Their ethnic identity was not recognized as indigenous under Section 3. After the enactment of this law, everyone had to submit their previous National Registration Card and apply for a new citizenship card. Regarding the Rohingya, due to Section 3, they are not eligible for full citizenship after the enactment of this law.
(b) Associate Citizenship (blue card holders): Chapter III, Sections 23 to 41 sets out the criteria for associate citizenship. According to Sections 23 and 24, associate citizenship will be granted under certain conditions to those who had applied for citizenship under the 1948 law and their children, and whose application was ongoing at the time of the promulgation of the new Act. Again it is elaborated in Section 30 that an associate citizen is “entitled to enjoy the rights of a citizen under the laws of the State, with the exception of the rights stipulated from time to time by the Council of State”. This grants the government an unlimited discretion to deprive such persons of their rights as citizens. Regarding this category, the “Central Body” can enjoy and practice unlimited power to revoke “associate citizenship” in the name of “disaffection or disloyalty to the state” or “moral turpitude”.
Ethnic Muslim minority Rohingya from Arakan State are not entitled to this associate citizenship. The ‘Associate Citizenship’ has virtually entitled those who had applied under the 1948 Citizenship Election Act as a new settler in Burma. Associate citizenship is the new version of 1948 Citizenship Election Act with a few amends. According to the 1982 law, if a person cannot give proof of residence of their ancestors prior to this date, he or she can be classified as an associate citizen if one’s grandfather, or pre-1823 ancestor, was a citizen of another country. Actually, these people were qualified under the 1948 Citizenship Election Act but they will no longer qualify as full citizens under this new law (HRW, 1996). At the same time, applications for associate citizenship had to be made within a year of promulgation of the law (October 1983). For that reason, the associate citizenship procedure has already closed. Rohingya leaders in Rangoon stated that they did not fit the criteria for this category. Few people of Chittagong origin who settled in Arakan more than three generations earlier, applied for associate citizenship (March 2014 in Rangoon).
(C) Naturalized Citizenship (green card holders): The criteria of naturalized citizenship is mentioned in the Chapter IV from Section 42 to 61. Naturalized citizenship may be granted to non-nationals such as members of ethnic groups not recognized as indigenous races, which especially include the Rohingya. But the Rohingya community has not agreed to become naturalized citizens of Burma. Mostly the Foreigners Registration Card holders apply for the status of naturalized citizens.
The Rohingya leaders claimed that there was no reason for them to apply for naturalized citizenship. They enjoyed full citizenship rights in the Union before the 1982 Citizenship Law (Rohingya MP from Rakhine State-Buthidaung constituency, March, 2014 in Rangoon). Under this category, all foreign registration card holders applied for naturalized citizenship. HRW (1996) stated that the stateless also could apply for this category. According to naturalized citizenship law, citizens must “speak well one of the national languages”, “be of good character” and “be of sound mind”. This law did not provide any criteria for establishing good character and sound mind; this would be considered by the Council of State. According to Section 58, the ‘Central Body’ (Council of State) may revoke the naturalized citizenship if anyone infringes any of the following provisions : trading or communicating with enemy countries or assisting the enemy countries during war, committing any act which endangered sovereignty, showing disaffection or disloyalty to the State, giving information or leaking any secret to other states, or committing any moral crime for which a sentence of imprisonment has been imposed. The Council of State was formed during the Ne Win regime. The present constitution has not mentioned this so-called ‘Central body’. According to the 2008 constitution, citizenship will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Im-migration. At the present time, the President’s Office and Ministry of Immigra-tion deal with the citizenship matters in Burma (U Thein alias Abdus Salam, July 2013 in Rangoon).
4. 1982 Citizenship Law Compared with the Union Citizenship Act 1948
There are fundamental differences between the two citizenship laws. Firstly, the 1982 Citizenship Law is based on indigenous ethnic identity. The indigenous identity was not mentioned for citizenship under the Union Citizenship Act 1948. Secondly, the 1982 Citizenship Law introduced a three-tier system of citizenship (full, associate, and naturalized). The Union Citizenship Act 1948 was followed by the unitary system. Indeed, the 1948 law recognized Arakan Muslim citizenship but the 1982 law completely denied the Rohingya identity and citizenship.
There are other differences between the 1948 Union Citizenship Act and 1982 Citizenship Law. Regarding the question of indigenous ethnicity mentioned in Section- 3 of the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law, it defines indigenous ethnic groups (Taing-Yin-Tha): “Nationals such as the Kachin, Karen, Chin, Burma, Mon, Rakhine or Shan and ethnic groups as have settled in any of the territories included within the States as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1185 B.E., 1823 A.D” are Burmese citizens. On the other hand, Section 3 (1) of the Union Citizenship Act, 1948 (as amended up to 1960) states: “For the purposes of section 11 of the Constitution the expression “any of the indigenous races” of Burma shall mean the Arakanese, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Mon or Shan race and such racial group as has settled in any of the territories included within the Union as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 A. D. (1185 B.E.)” (Cited in Siddiqui, 2012 and Nurain, 2010).
The Union Citizenship Act, 1948 had clearly stated that the Arakanese were one of the indigenous races in Burma. That law did not refer to the ‘Rakhine’ or ‘Rohingya’ which explains why before the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya did not face any identity crisis in Burma. Even the Rohingya name was recognized in various government documents. Surprisingly, 1982 law used the word ‘Rakhine’ instead of Arakanese. Rohingya leaders and rights activists argued that this was intentional by the Buddhist Rakhines to exclude the Rohingya Muslims from the Burmese state framework. Moreover, the Burmese central authority and Rakhine State government claim that Arakanese and Rakhine are synonymous. But historical documents did not show the evidence on which the Rakhine leaders’ arguments were based.
Ancestry is one of the major criteria for citizenship in Burma and is covered in Section 4 (2) of the Union Citizenship Act, 1948 (as amended up to 1960): “Any person descended from ancestors who for two generations at least have all made any of the territories included within the Union their permanent home and whose parents and himself were born in any of such territories shall be deemed to be a citizen of the Union.” On the other hand, the 1982 Citizenship Law expressed this criteria differently: indigenous race and their presence should be established before the first Anglo-Burma war in 1824,whild the 1948 Citizenship Act emphasized that any person descended through two generations would be treated as a citizen.
The above discussion shows that the Rohingya certainly met the ancestry criteria for citizenship. But the problem started when the Ne Win regime used the name Rakhine instead of Arakanese. At the same time, indigenous identity became the ethnic name. This was well designed by the General Ne Win regime to exclude the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma. Finally, 1982 Citizenship Law institutionally excluded the Rohingyas from Burma’s state framework.
5. Right to Nationality under the Human Rights
Since the rise of the nation-state in the 18th century, the right to nationality has, in practice, become integral to the enjoyment of almost all other rights. In 1923, the Permanent Court of International Justice stated that, laws and practices of citizenship must comply with the principle of the international law. Regarding the citizenship, state sovereignty is not merely the supreme authority, it should match the substance of international law. Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws in 1930s under the General Principle, Article-1 stated that “it is for each State to determine under its own law who are the nationals. This law shall be recognized by other States in so far as it is consistent with international conventions, international custom, and the principles of law generally recognized with regard to nationality”. In addition, the preamble to this Convention also stated that it is in the general interest of the international community to secure that all its members should recognize that every person should have a nationality and should have one nationality. Later, this spirit was also reflected in the UDHR and other UN human rights treaties and conventions.
The right to nationality is highlighted in various international human rights law. Firstly it was introduced in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 15 (1) has mentioned that “everyone has the right to a nationality”. In the same article, 15 (2) has stated that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Though, UDHR is not legally binding treaties but most of the States’ uphold the spirit and it’s treated as customary international law. It is common practice that nation-states abide by the rules and regulations of international human rights law. However, in many Asian countries of today such as Burma politicized their nationality and citizenship law and at the same time frequently violated the essence of right to nationality.
There are many UN human rights treaties articulating the right to nationality such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 [Article 24 (3), UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965 [Article 5 (d) (iii)], UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimi¬nation against Women, 1979 Article 9. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989[Article 7 (1)]: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have … the right to acquire a nationality....” Highest numbers of States ratified this convention except for US and Somalia. Regional human rights standard such as American Convention on Human Rights, 1969 [Article 20] also stated the same spirit that every person has the right to nationality. Despite human rights standards and universal protection mechanism, thousands of people have been deprived of their nationality in different parts of the world. It is noted that, Burma has not been a signatory to many UN human rights treaties except the CEDAW, CRC and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Therefore, it can be said that Burma has legal obligation to implement these treaties in their national context.
6. Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality
The notion of human rights developed through the United Nations created charter, non-binding declarations and legally binding various treaties. Apart from the UN, regional human rights standard and mechanism also contributed to protect the deprivation of nationality. According to the spirit of UDHR, every human being should have at least one citizenship has as its corollary that the lack of any citizenship or virtual statelessness itself is human rights violation. For that reason, statelessness brings an acute vulnerability to additional rights violations (Weissbrodt, 2008). Adjami and Harrington argue that “while all states are bound to respect the human rights of all individuals without distinctions, an individual’s legal bond to a particular state through citizenship remains in practice an essential prerequisite to the enjoyment and protection of the full range of human rights” (2008, p.93). There are many declarations and legally binding treaties adopted in the human rights arena to ensure the rights for all without any distinction. Despite this spirit, many countries have promulgated various laws to exclude the minorities. Regarding the case of Rohingya, the state made them de jure stateless in the name of indigenous ethnics. Therefore, it can be argued that state willingness is important to protect the rights of individuals.
Open Society Justice Initiative (2006) thematic paper Human Rights and Legal Identity: Approaches to Combating Stateless and Arbitrary Deprivation of Na-tionality has mentioned the three major international legal restrictions on state sovereignty over the regulations of citizenship have emerged: the prohibition against the racial discrimination, the prohibition against the statelessness and the prohibition on the arbitrary deprivation of citizenship. All these prohibitions clearly state that, in the name of sovereignty no one will be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality under any circumstances. Deprivation of nationality cannot be justified in the name of national security. In that context, Adjami and Harrington stated that; “deprivation of nationality even on permitted grounds must be accompanied by important procedural and substantive safeguards” (2008, p.101). In most of the cases, tyrannical regimes tried to derive advantage in the name of national integrity and sovereignty so why they have excluded some groups of people. It was possible because of the absence of strong universal authority.
Article 15 of the UDHR sates that right to nationality and free from arbitrary deprivation of nationality are also reflected in other international human rights treaties. It is noted that manipulative denationalization has occurred in many places under different circumstances. In the aftermath of the Socialist Revolution in USSR, many political dissidents were deprived of their nationality. Even the Jews and other ethnic minorities face severe degrading treatments and arbitrarily deprived of nationality in many European countries. Nowadays, the hill tribes in Thailand became de facto stateless in their ancestral land. These states enacted the nationality and citizenship law against the particular ethnic and religious minority.
United Nations has adopted two separate mechanisms to protect statelessness; human rights convention to reduce and protect the statelessness respectively in 1954 and 1961. It has already been discussed that all five international human rights treaties emphasize against the deprivation of citizenship or nationality under any circumstances. Arbitrary deprivation of nationality based on race, religious, political or gender ground is now treated as violation of fundamental rights. This spirit also is reaffirmed in the UN Human Rights Council resolution 7/10 “Human Rights and Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality”. In this context, Gyulai argues that “ the deprivation of nationality is to be regarded as a grave violation of human rights ... the obligation to protect stateless persons (i.e. victims of a serious human rights violation) can be indirectly derived from states’ obligation to respect the right to nationality (2007 cited in ERT, 2010.p.32). Gyulai (2007) focused this paper on refugees and stateless persons in the European context. It is also common in the Asian perspective that various groups of non-citizens face discriminatory policy in their country of habitual residence.
7. Arbitrary Deprivation of Rohingya Nationality in Burma
The 1982 Citizenship Law is the pivotal point of the Rohingya discussion. It is the root cause of other plights of Rohingyas in Burma. There are many times Rohingya citizenship issue has drawn attention in the United Nations and other regional forums. The Rohingya and other rights activists constantly criticize this law while, on the other hand, the GoM, Rakhine political leaders and academics try to establish that the Rohingya are settlers from Bangladesh. The essence of the 1982 Citizenship Law is that Burmese identity should be based on the concept of Taing-Yin-Tha (son of soil). The GoM firmly believes that the Rohingya have failed to meet the criteria of indigenous ethnicity. Regarding the provision of citizenship, Burmese Muslim scholar Thein Myant alias Abdus Salam (2013) argues that regarding the question of citizenship the 2008 Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar also follows the 1974 Constitution. However, the 1982 Citizenship Law is still in force and Rohingya Muslims in Burma are still suffering from the same inhuman treatment as before. The whole process is self-contradictory: the spirit of present constitution is inconsistent with the 1982 Citizenship Law.
According to the 1982 Citizenship Law, ethnic minority Rohingya do not qualify for full citizenship and some meet the criteria for associate citizenship. Naturalized citizenship is the last option for the Rohingya. Although Rohingya leaders rejected naturalized citizenship for their community, it should be remembered that the Rohingya have been struggling to restore their full citizenship rights in Burma, which they had enjoyed before the enactment of this new law. Section 6 clearly states that “A person who is already a citizen on the date this Law comes into force is a citizen. Action, however, shall be taken under section 18 for infringement of the provision of that section.” Rohingya MP Shwe Maung alias Abdul Razak and UNDP-President Abu Tahay argue that the “above mentioned article recognize our citizenship”. Before the enactment of the 1982 law, Rohingya community had enjoyed their citizenship rights and joined the government. But in the name of indigenous ethnicity, Rohingya were arbitrarily denied their right to nationality in Burma (March, 2014 in Rangoon).
Section 6 of the 1982 law provides that individuals who had obtained citizenship under the 1948 Act would retain their citizenship status. This section can be interpreted to mean that those Rohingya who had registered and received National Registration Cards under the 1948 Act should be able to continue their citizenship. In Burma, this interpretation is not easily applied to Rohingys. Rights activist and writer, Siddique (2012), argues that “those Rohingya who had the old National Registration Cards were ordered to turn in their cards when they made an application for citizenship under the new law: many of them complained that they had received neither new documents nor the old ones back.” It is not easy for the Rohingya to provide all the necessary papers. During the ‘Operation Naga Min’ between March and August 1978, more than a quarter million people crossed the Naaf river and took refuge in Bangladesh territory. During that time, Buddhist Arakanese destroyed Rohingya properties, and government law and order forces took no effective action to save Rohingya villages (Yegar, 2002). After returning from Bangladesh, many Rohingya could not regain their possessions or even their houses. In 1991-92, the second Rohingya influx occurred in Bangladesh. During the field work phase of this research in Rangoon, Rohingya small shopkeeper Mohammad Salim (July 2012 in Rangoon) stated that
“I have a Pink Card but none of my family members have this card. After returning from Bangladesh in 1994, they got White Cards. Anyway, I escaped from Rathidaung and stayed in Rangoon for more than a decade. Now, I cannot go back to my home town and due to the lack of papers my family members are not allowed to move from that place except to flee the country.”
This is not an isolated case for Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. All Rohingya political leaders and running MPs uphold the Bengali ethnic identity in their official papers. Union National Development Party President, Abu Tahay, shared his personal experience:
“It was 1990; I submitted all the papers for getting a citizen’s scrutiny card. Yes, I mentioned Rohingya ethnicity in the application form. Then, the Rangoon immigration authority verified my relevant papers and found that all evidence was fair enough to give me a ‘Pink Card’. But I am not allowed to write the ‘Rohingya’ identity. In that circumstance, I have to state ‘Bengali’ ethnicity. Otherwise, I have to leave the country or have to stay de jure stateless in my habitual residence.” (February 2014 in Rangoon)
It should be noted that lack of proper documentation prevents many otherwise eligible candidates from applying for citizenship. Consequently, a third genera-tion of Rohingyas is now treated as illegal migrants or “Bengali settlers” in Arakan. Rohingya leaders and Rangoon-based community people are trying to restore their indigenous identity and nationality under the Union of Burma state framework. They believe that all democratic forces will support them and will help them to establish peaceful co-existence in Arakan State.
8. Chronology of laws relevant to the Rohingya in Burma (Flow Chart)
After detailed discussion of the background and categories of the 1982 Citizenship Law, the flow chart will give more clarification about the Rohingyas’ recognition and arbitrary deprivation of nationality in Burma.
From this discussion, it will be easier for understand the Rohingya, foreigner and other ethnics’ status according to national registration and citizens’ identity cards. During the colonial time and post-independence, Foreigners Act and Registration of Foreigner Rule 1948 were enacted to identify the foreign residents in Burma. Firstly, it was enacted in 1864 and amended in 1940. In post-independence, foreign residents came under the Registration of Foreigners Rule in 1948. Under this rule, most of the South Asian and Chinese were registered. Rohingya scholar Zul Nurain (2010) tried to explain the Rohingys position in British colonial period. In 1937, Burma was separated from the British India and named it British Burma. During that time, the Rohingya was treated as Burmese citizen under the Governor’s council. The Rohingya had participation in the legislative council as native people not as Indians.
After independence in Burma, the government introduced Union Citizenship Act 1948 and 1948 Citizenship (Election) Act. The Union Constitution 1947, Article 11 (i) recognized “Every person, both of whose parents belong or belonged to any of the indigenous races of Burma.” It is to be noted that the 1947 Constitution did not specifically mention the ethnicity in the citizenship
related articles. But it can be assumed that the majority of Burmese and other ethnic minorities such as; Shan, Karen, Kachin , Karenni and Chin people can be treated as indigenous people of Burma. These ethnic group names were mentioned in different articles in the 1947 constitution. According to identification document, all these indigenous people were granted National Registration Cards (shortly called NRC). It was issued in 1955-56 for all citizens of Burma. Therefore, NRC is the identity of all Burmese nationals. On the other hand, foreign residents got Foreigners Registration Certificates (shortly called FRC). After the introduction of the 1982 Citizenship Law, foreign resident certificate holders obtained naturalized citizens in Burma. All these naturalized citizens are now holding the green card.
According to 1982 Citizenship Law, there is no provision for citizen’s cards system. The present Citizen Scrutinizing Card (CSC) system was introduced in 1989.Then Rohingyas were excluded and denied any of these color coded citizenship cards. It stated that, three different color coded cards are now the symbol of citizenship status. The Burmese authority did not issue any cards to the Rohingyas and told that they do not fall under any of these colors (Lewa: 2001).
The National Registration Cards (NRC) was valid before the introduction of Citizen Scrutinizing Card in 1989. For that reason, after 1982 Law was enacted, Rohingya people could not realize the importance of the new citizenship law. Even the Burma Socialist Program Party leaders assured them: “it is just for official documents. It will not hamper their status in Burma (Abu Tahay July, 2013 in Rangoon). After introduced Citizens Scrutinizing Card in 1989, Rohingya not only lost their citizen’s rights but also unjustly rejected even their community identity (Amnesty International: 2004).
Chronology of laws relevant to the Rohingya in Burma

In 1991-92, the second Rohingya influx occurred in Bangladesh. Most of the Rohingya were repatriated in Arakan around 1994 as residents of Myanmar not as citizens. In 1994, these returnees were granted Temporary Registration Cards or “White Card” which provided only limited rights to movement and employment in northern Arakan State. This card had validity of only six months (Kyaw Min alias Shamsul Anoar-President of DHRP). As a result, they could not make passports and even their movement was strictly restricted. Nowadays, the legal status of the vast majority of Rohingya Muslims in Burma is described as ‘suspicious’ by the immigration officials. In addition, the local authority refused to issue the Citizenship Scrutinizing Cards to the Rohingya. As a result, the “White Card” holder Rohingya now lives a captive life in their village.
9. Conclusion
In conclusion, the 1982 Citizenship Law deliberately targeted the Rohingya in Arakan State to become “stateless persons”. This article tried to incorporate both sides’ opinion of the 1982 Citizenship Law and Rohingyas’ deprivation of nationality. Scholars and rights practitioners’ were concerned with the 1982 Citizenship Law, which did not meet the international standard. Even the 1982 Law did not comply with the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Constitution- 2008. The basis of 1982 Citizenship Law is indigenous ethnic identity, which was only made to ensure the Rohingyas statelessness in Burma. In addition, the 1982 law reflected on the ethnocentric and racist attitude against the Rohingya in Burma.
Throughout this discussion, there some major gaps were identified in the human rights mechanism against the arbitrary deprivation of nationality. Earlier it was stated that there are some internationally recognized principles to determine the nationality or citizenship law. In practice, the State is the supreme authority to determine the citizenship law. The 1982 Citizenship Law breached the spirit of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 15 (1) that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and 15 (2) that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” It was possible because the whole human rights standard and mechanism could not work due to lack of the enforcing authority. At the same time, the nation-state especially the tyrannical regime does not bother about the international rules and regulations. In the name of ultra-nationalism, most countries did not want to incorporate marginalized or ethnic and religious minority groups in their nation’s framework. Even signatory states of Conventions often rejected the customary practices of right to citizenship. In this context, the number of de facto statelessness has increased in the last two decade. Currently, many international organizations have been working in Burma, but no affective initiative have been launched yet to restore the Rohingyas their citizenship.
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